Friday, January 04, 2008

Finding Success In Failure

Michael Gerson, the feeling man's Republican, shares a few gems:
But Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy has succeeded with disorienting speed. Its combination of vision and competence will fill chapters in military textbooks.

In spite of these gains, Democratic presidential candidates still insist on reckless timetables for withdrawal -- the surest way to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- who declared that the surge had "failed" even before it was fully implemented -- now contends that "the surge hasn't accomplished its goals."
If Mr. Gerson would acquaint himself with the facts, even slightly, he would be aware that Harry Reid's statements are true. The surge has been a success militarily, but it has not accomplished its goals. To quote, you know, the President:
A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.
By what measure beyond the military - something the President told us up-front was an inadequate measure - is the Surge a success?

Ethnic cleansing preceded the surge (not as part of U.S. policy, but as a consequence of ethnic warring), and part of the surge plan has involved erecting huge concrete barriers between ethnic factions so as to minimize conflict. That has helped bring about a reduction in a reduction of ethnic violence and reduced casualties, both civilian and military. What lesson should we draw from other nations, as to what is likely to happen if the authoritative hand is removed and the ethnic groups are freed to renew their conflict? (The Yugoslav "ethnic civil war" model; The Chechnya/Slovakia "split the country" model... is there another?) Even with significant federal reconciliation, it will take a great deal of effort by the Iraqi government to keep ethnic tensions under control, and I have some doubt as to their ability to do it within the... indefinite future. So does John McCain - who is prepared to commit our forces to Iraq for a century or more.

Meanwhile, we are at the crossroads between "surge" and "escalation." Gerson is ready to engrave our military success in Iraq into the history books. Yet members of the military in Iraq see it as taking six years or longer to achieve our goals. And unfortunately, no matter what our military does, it contributes nothing to the willingness of Iraq's various factions to form some form of unity government. It may in some senses encourage certain groups to be intransigent, knowing that we remain present to keep a lid on things while they hold out for more. Meanwhile, we have a growing question of what it will take to hold our military together for that six years (or for McCain's century) while we wait for the promised political progress that never seems to come.

I think the question that Gerson should be addressing is whether the U.S. and Iraq will be better served by a Bush-style "Let's see what happens in the next (and the next, and the next) six months" approach, a McCain-style "Don't worry about progress, as we'll hold your hand for as long as it takes" approach, or a Democratic-style, "You had better shape up, or you're going to have to do this without us" approach. Which approach would he deem more "conservative", if not more "compassionate"?

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